Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
God Gave Them Up
Three different times in this passage Paul states that God “gave them up.” Because sinful men chose futility over faith, lies over truth, God gave them over to the tendencies latent within the human heart. And their heart, of course, was the problem. Their heart could not be right, and therefore they could not do right. This is the problem that Paul will pound like a drum throughout Romans: fallen man cannot be righteous in the flesh because his heart is inherently corrupt. Flesh that is cut off from the life of God will immediately begin to decay. Man must be given a new heart before he can be holy, a new heart that is filled with the indwelling, empowering presence of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit.
Notice also how the impurity of the heart will always work its way out to the body. The lusts of their heart caused them to dishonor their bodies among themselves. The corruption of the heart never stays put. It always finds its way out. Paul will spend a great deal of time later on talking about the sin that works within our “members,” the parts of the body, and he will show us how this sin flows out of the corruption within our hearts. We need a new heart!
Romans 1 is a vivid description of the dehumanization that occurs when man turns to idols. The human race falls apart when Christ no longer holds everything together at the center of life. When man turns from God to idols, everything in his world shatters into fragments. He descends into the chaos of sexual disorientation. He forsakes fruitfulness and purpose for futility and pleasure. He falls from the lofty heights of sharing dominion with God to the lowest gutter of reptilian shame. All of this is the inevitable consequence of forsaking the true and living God.
Man cannot be what he was created to be apart from true worship. Man was created to bear the image and share the glory of God. Thus, to do anything else or to be anything less is to be something else and something less than truly human. This is the deep and tragic irony of secular humanism: humanism is inhuman! And because it is inhuman, it becomes inhumane. The radical humanists of the twentieth century made that clear in the death camps of Nazi Germany, Soviet Siberia and Maoist China (among many others of the same ilk). Man cannot know what it is to be truly human apart from relationship with God. Because man was made in the image of God, God defines what it means for man to be human. Remove God, and you lose humanness. Remove God, and man becomes bestial.
As we shall see, Romans is about the re-humanization of de-humanized man. Paul shows us how God in Christ through the Holy Spirit indwelling the church is forming a new humanity as a new creation that is conformed to the image of Christ. This new creation is offered up to God as a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1), and this living sacrifice is one unified whole made up of many members joined together by baptism into one holy community of faith.
When we as individual humans are baptized into this new creation in Christ, we no longer conform to the world, the present evil age, but we are transformed according to the perfect will of God by the renewing of our mind. The resulting relationship with God and our fellow man brings a renewal of the original humanity and restores us to the glory that God intended for Adam. The shaping of these new relationships and the realization of the potential and purpose latent within the heart of baptized, Spirit-filled man re-humanizes us and allows us to become the people God made us to be.
So, Paul concludes that God gave fallen man up to impurity to dishonor their bodies among themselves; to dishonorable passions that led to sexual disorientation; and a debased mind that produced “all manner of unrighteousness.” And Paul goes on to list in remorseless detail the unrighteousness that their debased minds produced. Not a pretty picture.
Furthermore, Paul concludes that both those who practice such things and those that approve when others practice these things are worthy of death according to the law of God. This is a powerful point and entirely correct, but, as we shall see, Paul will use this point in an unexpected way. He will turn this point around and show that we all—including the so-called “righteous”—are worthy of death and cannot be saved apart from the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. Paul will show that each one of us can find ourselves somewhere in this list of shameful acts. That is the point we shall encounter with almost terrifying force in Romans 2.